Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

 

Tribute To Women In Pan

 

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Meet Christine Law  - Wonderland Steel Band - (1965 - 1967) Trinidad

On Panorama Christine says it is -- “An incredible explosion of musical energy and THE SOUND of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Christine Law is now 81 years of age. She was in her early 30s when she led the Wonderland Steel Band in Chaguanas, central Trinidad.  She recalls her time in Trinidad and Tobago with the fondest of memories. Her most moving memory is of the whole of the Wonderland band turning up to play for them as they boarded their boat to leave Trinidad for the final time in 1967. Everyone was in tears!

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Christine Law, musical director for Wonderland Steel Band from 1965 - 1967 shares her personal journey and memories with Pan.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about the musical background of Christine Law?”

Christine L. - “I am a classically trained musician and attended the Royal College of Music in London between 1954-58. I am principally a singer but also a pianist. I sang with the BBC Singers in the early 1960s, a major choral group within the BBC which is still in existence today.”


WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Christine L. - “Opera singers from the 1950s and 60s and of course many of the classical composers throughout history, especially Mozart.”


WST - “When and how did you first become aware of the steelpan instrument?”

Christine L. - “When I moved to Trinidad with my husband and two sons in 1963. Pan music was everywhere, including in our own parish of St. Thomas in Chaguanas where my husband had been appointed as Priest in Charge.”


WST - “Why were you chosen to arrange classical pieces for the steelband?”

Christine L. - “Because it became known that I had a classical musical background. But in fact it was really my idea.”


WST - “How did you become associated with Wonderland Steel Band?”

Christine L. - “The band was based in Chaguanas and had a connection to the Anglican Church of St. Thomas where my husband was the priest. I got to know the boys who played in the band and was asked to lead the band and try some classical music arrangements with them.”


WST - “Given the attitude towards steelbands in the 60s - how were you viewed as a woman in a leadership position of a steelband?”

Christine L. - “All of the boys in the band respected my position in the community, as wife of the priest at St. Thomas and also my classical musical background. I really had no issues relating to being a woman to deal with.”


WST - “Where did the band perform? And how many members did you have?”

Christine L. - “The band rehearsed and performed under the rectory at St. Thomas church and at their own centre in Chaguanas.”


WST - “Was there any concern among the Trinity church members about them being associated with a steelband?”

Christine L. - “It was St. Thomas Anglican Church. No, there were no issues. Church members were proud to be associated with the band.”


WST - “What did you find most intriguing about the steelband?”

Christine L. - “The incredible skill of the players in the band. They were able to understand and pick up new ideas and tunes so quickly.”


Wonderland Steel Band 1965, with Christine Law
Wonderland Steel Band with Christine Law, right - 1965

WST - “What was your vision for the steelpan instrument when you led Wonderland?”

Christine L. - “It was a “new” instrument playing classical music like Mozart. I wanted to bring this fusion of instrument and music together so everyone could appreciate it.”


WST - “How long did you stay in a position of leadership with the orchestra?”

Christine L. - “2.5 years.”


WST - “What were the most challenging things you faced in terms of composing for the steelband?”

Christine L. - “I was also a music teacher in Trinidad. Piano and singing. So I used piano and singing scores and transposed them for pan. This was a challenge but I enjoyed it.”


WST - “Did you also play the pan?”

Christine L. - “No, I never learned pan properly. I could play a little bit.”


WST - “Who made and tuned your pans?”

Christine L. - “I don’t really recall who did this, but the band was supported by the Caroni Sugar Company and I think they arranged and paid for this.”


WST - “Wonderland was one of the bands that participated in the first Panorama of Trinidad and Tobago Finals. What do you remember of this competition?”

Christine L. - “I was not involved in the first Panorama finals as we just arrived in Trinidad that year.”


WST - “What role did you play in that 1963 Panorama? Were you the arranger and if so what song did the band play?”

Christine L. - “I was not involved in 1963. But in 1966 Wonderland performed Eina Klina Nacht Musik by Mozart. I was band leader and arranger of the music and taught and conducted the band. I think we came second. It was the most wonderful experience.”


WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan and your participation in the movement?”

Christine L. - “Having the respect of all the wonderful musicians I have worked with. And playing in the Panorama finals.”


WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”

Christine L. - “Nothing!”


WST - “What surprised you the most in terms of the growth and changes in Pan - from when you first started, to now?”

Christine L. - “Its incredible reach around the world. For example, my granddaughter in London, UK has had the experience to play and learn pan in both her primary and secondary school. Her secondary school has a complete set of pans and an active band.”


WST - “What is it you believe the global steelpan community needs work on?”

Christine L. - “Unfortunately I am no longer really connected to the community except through my memories and via my son who retains connections in T&T. So I can’t really answer that.”


WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Christine L. - “An incredible explosion of musical energy and THE SOUND of Trinidad and Tobago.”


WST - “Do you have a special or favorite arranger and Pan tune?”

Christine L. - “Unfortunately I don’t know the current arrangers so not really. ”


 
Christine Law and husband Richard Law
Christine Law and husband Richard Law (the Anglican Priest in charge of St. Thomas’ Church, Chaguanas, Trinidad 1963-1967)
Note: Christine Law is now 81 years of age. She was in her early 30s when she led the Wonderland Steel Band. In Chaguanas. Her husband Fr. Richard Law is now cared for in a specialist dementia home in England as he has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She recalls her time in Trinidad and Tobago with the fondest of memories. Her most moving memory is of the whole of the Wonderland Steel Band turning up to play for them as they boarded their boat to leave Trinidad for the final time in 1967. Everyone was in tears! Her third son John returns to T&T when he can and retains a great love for the country of his birth. And loves to hear Pan music whenever he get a chance.

John Law




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